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Child care providers anxiously waiting for final word from school districts

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Molly and Bree
Bree Hepker, left, and Molly Stark, right, at Early Beginnings Child Care in Atkins on Thursday.
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The Iowa Women's Foundation and Better Tomorrow ECI are supporting child care workers during the pandemic.

ATKINS, Iowa (KWWL) - Eastern Iowa schools will resume classwork next month but many districts still haven't finalized their return to learn plans. Child care providers have been struggling to stay open during the pandemic and say they and the families they serve need clarity.

"Parents just want to know what's going to happen," Bree Hepker said, who operates two child care centers with her sister Molly in Benton County.

Hepker says roughly 60% of their kids stopped coming to day care in early April, when the coronavirus really took hold in Iowa, as parents felt it safer to keep them home. She says they're approaching their normal numbers again now and were able to avoid layoffs with federal funding.

"Fortunately for us, among other small businesses, we got the PPP loan. So, we were able to increase their wages," Hepker said.

Emergency, pop-up child care was considered as an option during the early stages of the pandemic but was never really needed, according to Mary Janssen with the Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral program.

Janssen says it may be necessary this fall, though; if enough school districts decide to start the year online.

"Everyone's concern is thinking, do we have the capacity to serve school-age children?" Janssen said.

Better Tomorrows Early Childhood Iowa and the Iowa Women's Foundation recently started a campaign supporting child care workers. The groups have been handing out yard signs and window stickers, hailing these workers for their hard work during the pandemic.

Janssen's office has a free parent referral program to learn about day cares in the area, you find out more about that here. The Iowa Department of Human Services also tracks child care opening across the state, on a map which can be found here.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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